Journey developer thatgamecompany blew critics and many gamers away with its sand-trudging PS3 romp. During a GDC Next session, studio manager Sunni Pavlovic stressed why such innovation and the delivery of unique ideas demands a great deal of experimentation, revision and risk.
IGN reports that Pavlovic’s session – entitled, “An Experimental Approach to Interactive Entertainment” – detailed why experimenting with ideas and binning unworkable concepts is the key to evolving as a studio.
During the talk, Pavlociv stressed, “For us, we define experimental as unproven, risky, with indeterminate commercial prospects. People sometimes refer to these games as ‘arthouse’ or ‘indie,’ but really, for us ‘experimental’ means making games that involve a lot of R&D, trial, error, experimentation, failure and uncertainty.
“We go into this unknown because we believe we’ll end up on the other side having created something new, beautiful, and meaningful for audiences that include both those who have and have not played and appreciated games in the past.”
While experimentation naturally leads to the testing of many wild and new ideas, focus is still required to stop the process from becoming random and wasteful. Pavlovic continued, “Focus is the opposite of random, and lack of focus is a recipe for a potentially expensive and emotionally-draining disaster, especially when midway through the project you can’t even get team members to agree what the game is about, which is very common when you’re making a game that has never existed before.”
Journey – Pavlovic said – was never conceived as a game with a winnable objective, but as something you experience and feel. She recognised that many gamers associated the game with love, and added, “There’s that concept somehow within the game design. It’s part of the theme. But I think in a game, you can’t point to love, just like in life. You can’t point to something and say ‘well, that’s love.’ You can’t say ‘two people are holding hands, that’s love.’ It’s the same as in a game. It’s not the action itself. It’s everything that’s built around it to create that feeling.”
“It’s not evoked through an explicit mechanic or action, but the refinement of design that allows players to focus on the higher faculties of emotion,” she continued. “The connection between the mechanics and the emotions happens within or by the player. It’s not visible within the game itself.”
What do you think Journey’s key theme was? Is it subjective? Do you want to see more teams taking risks instead of sticking to templates? Let us know what you think below.